On your next Institute ballot you will be asked to vote on elimination of the Professional, Industry, and Associate Member categories. Other than a vague suggestion that the result “better reflects CSI’s core value of building teamwork” - a questionable proposition in itself - I’m not sure what the justification will be, but I don’t believe the benefits outweigh the cost.
To put this issue in perspective, let’s take a look at the history of CSI member categories. (To make things easier, I will refer to these three member categories as “full members” to distinguish them from Intermediate Members and Student Members, who are not allowed to vote or hold elective office. And to avoid having to continually express this exception, I acknowledge that member categories are used when discussing the makeup of CSI boards of directors and committees.)
Today, CSI’s original members would be considered Professional Members; they were specifiers who formed an organization to improve construction documents. There were no Industry, Associate, Intermediate, or Student Members. However, even though CSI’s Certificate of Incorporation did not define any member categories, it anticipated the possible need for them and allowed their creation.
It isn’t clear when CSI expanded its ranks to include Industry Members, but I think it’s fair to say that for many years they were not treated as well as they should have been. According to a reliable source, it wasn’t until 1966 that Industry Members were eligible for Fellowship; not until 1975 were members other than Professional Members allowed to vote; and it wasn’t until 1988 that an Industry Member was voted in as president-elect.
When I became a member in 1987, virtually all of that was past history, a history I did not learn of for many years. When I submitted my membership application, I easily chose the appropriate member category; the fact that there were three categories of full members did not concern me. Later, when I became more active in my chapter, I saw the member categories as a convenience for achieving balanced representation on the board of directors, a balance I consider to be one of our strengths.
Although we do have member categories, all full members now have the same rights and responsibilities. In practice, there is no difference, and there is nothing to suggest there is a difference. The terms Professional Member, Industry Member, and Associate Member do not appear on business cards, nor are they used in publications. After joining CSI, a member is a member is a member.
The only complaint I have heard about member categories came from a few Industry Members, who asked, “So we’re not professional?” It was not the existence of member categories that disturbed them, but the titles. Not long after hearing that question, almost twenty years ago, I began referring to “industry professionals” and “design professionals”, a practice I continue today. Had our predecessors used these or similar terms, I doubt we would be having this discussion today.
When you vote, consider the following:
- CSI is one of only a few construction industry organizations that embrace everyone in the construction industry and give all full members equal rights and responsibilities. In contrast, others, such as AIA and NSPE, allow only specific members or groups to vote or hold office. Eliminating our member categories would have no practical effect on members.
- If there is value in our existing requirements for representation of different member types, the existing classification method is a benefit as it makes it easy to identify those who fit into the member categories. It’s much easier to say “Associate Member” than “those members whose primary function is to provide service, support, and assistance to the construction industry” or list a long series of occupation codes. The same thing could be accomplished by other means, but to change would require a fair amount of administrative work to create and define new terms to replace the ones we now use, and to change all the policies and documents that mention member categories. In its simplest form, the result might merely be using lowercase names, e.g., “professional member” for “Professional Member.”
- Because member categories are not mentioned outside of membership forms and those policies that are related to makeup of boards and committees, there would be no visible change in CSI’s general publications. Without a press release, few would know of the change, and fewer still would care about it.
- Although having a single member category for full members may more accurately reflect the way we feel about teamwork, does it affect membership? Have we lost or failed to attract any members who were offended by the member categories? If so, how many? If potential members are confused by the definitions of membership categories, perhaps a better explanation would eliminate the problem.
- This change would not affect only Institute bylaws. Region and chapter bylaws, as well as Institute, region, and chapter policies, operating guides, and documents would have to be reviewed for potential revisions.
It may well be that there are compelling reasons to change to a single member category, reasons that make the work required to change bylaws, policies, and other documents worthwhile. If that is the case, we need to know what those reasons are well before the ballots are issued. It will be easy to say “yes”, but it will take a lot of time and effort to finish the job.
We have enough to do in addressing far more significant issues; we don’t need to spend time on things that will have little effect.